Commissioner Bowie Kuhn has taken on a fight to the finish for ruling that Rusty Staub is the property of the Expos, Roy Hofheinz, president of the Astros, said at a press conference March 22. Hofheinz retained legal counsel to carry the battle to civil court. Two days later, the Astros filed a petition before U.S. District Judge John Singleton in Houston. The Astros sought a declaratory judgment against the Expos and “at least” $10,000 in damages. “This jonnny-come-lately has done more to destroy baseball in the last six weeks than all of its enemies have done in the past 100 years,” Hofheinz said of Kuhn.
Houston had traded Staub for Alou and Clendenon, but on March 1, Donn announced in Atlanta that he was retiring from baseball to take an executive post with Scripto, Inc., a pen company. Baseball rules (No. 12-F) states that a trade is nullified when one player retires within 31 days after the start of a season without having reported to the assigned club. Kuhn’s first ruling on the matter was that Clendenon had not really retired. But after numerous declarations by Clendenon, Kuhn at last had to abandon this position. But the Astros could not make him apply the rule. Kuhn finally employed the commissioner’s carte blanche authority to act “in the best interest of baseball” and bypassed the regulation in order to allow Montreal to keep Staub.
“It’s apparent that the commissioner has sought to use the commissioner’s office to try to help a club out of sympathy, but in swinging at his mother-in-law, he has hit his wife,” Hofheinz said.